Just Not For Me

Man Walking Down the Line in the RoadIf I consider what it is that has taken the heaviest toll on me over 24 years of pastoral leadership it might well be those who walk away from faith.

Each one who has given it away is probably not that significant on their own – and I reckon that’d be how they feel about it – but the combined weight of each person’s ‘failed journey’ or whatever you choose to call it can eventually become quite a load.

Maybe you say ‘its not my load to carry’ and that’d be true. And I don’t think I do carry it these days. But I feel it. I feel it in my heart as someone else says ‘I dunno… I just can’t keep going with it…I’m not sure I believe any more… I’m not sure I ever believed…’

And I wonder, ‘what do you say to that?…’ I’m not sure…

In my youth ministry days I think I felt an inappropriate sense of responsibility for the faith journey of those who were in our churches. When they gave it away I felt like I had failed them, or maybe just that I had failed. Maybe I had sometimes.

But young people are known for going thru phases and it appeared that some went thru their ‘church phase’ under our leadership. I never liked to see young people get baptised and then 6 months later say ‘ah, I’m over that now…’, but what’s harder is watching adults lose faith, give faith away or simply choose to let it go.

Usually for adults it starts as ‘giving up on church’ (and sometimes the reasons are even valid) and then moves to disillusionment with God and eventually to disinterest. The convenience of a life removed from God can be pretty attractive if your journey following Jesus has been particularly hard.

I see people give faith up for a whole host of reasons. Boredom with church is a biggie. The struggle to ‘attend’ a service or meet weekly with people with whom there is often little in common can get old quickly. When we make following Jesus primarily about church attendance we are in trouble, but this is the dominant paradigm in our culture so we have to work with it.

For some, life can turn to poo and God is an easy target for the blame. Depending on your theology God may even be the source of your pain. That presents some real theological conundrums. If God isn’t the cause then he is the person who could have done something but didn’t… not the world’s most loving father after all. A broken heart is a danger for some and an impetus for others. Some run from God when the world falls apart and others run to him. My hunch is that more immature Christians run away.

For some a non-Christian partner is like an anchor, a huge weight that means faith is constantly being dragged around and never enjoyed. Sometimes it may be easier to just quietly slip out of a church and not return. What makes that strategy even worse is that many single Christians who have made a huge effort to connect in church may go MIA and no one may notice. The absence of any follow up is a nail in the coffin of a sick faith. The hurt from that experience can leave a person ‘believing in God but not in church’.

Then there are those who just ‘never really got it’ in the first place. Good people who have been part of the church community, have shared the load in every way, but who in their quiet moments will admit to not being even sure if they believe. What do you do there?

I certainly don’t fight God’s battles for him any more. If you don’t want to believe then that’s ok. Go ahead. If you think God is actually evil and has done you wrong then I’m not sure I can change that either. I reckon he can stand up for himself if he needs to.  If you signed up for the wrong gig and just want to get off the squad then I’m not going to stop you.

Sometimes I feel like I am being called on to defend God – to make sense of him in some of life’s most difficult situations. And I can’t do that. I can’t make someone believe. I can’t convince a broken heart that God is good.

I can listen, ask questions, speak of my own experience. I can share what I read in scripture of how God has worked in the past, but what I can’t do is flick a switch in another person’s heart that says ‘ok – I believe,’ or ‘ok I want to believe.’

A couple of conversations lately have sat heavily on me as I have realised people are exiting – leaving faith – and I can’t stop them. Nor do I think it appropriate to try and stop them.

I have been reminded in these times that our clever arguments are not the answer to the wounded, disillusioned or the disbelieving, but that prayer is the hope. Somewhere in the spiritual realm a battle is going on for the heart and its a battle that is only going to be won in the spiritual realm.

But each one that goes leaves a mark – causes pain and grief. I sense what I experience some days is the cumulative weight of that disappointment and of my own inability to fix it, but rather just having to accept that this is the way life is.

That’s how I feel.

I can only imagine how God feels.

12 thoughts on “Just Not For Me

  1. Hi Andrew
    I often see your stuff on FB and appreciate that you genuinely try to engage with people who do not share your Christian world view. If I assume that posts such as this one are intended for a Christian audience I don’t see much harm in them. I get where you are coming from and can see how confusing it is to have all these people ‘walking away’ from something that to you is the source of all meaning and hope. But if your intended audience includes the ‘walkers’ like me, your assertions and assumptions show a surprising lack of imagination. Can there really be no other explanation besides those you have listed? And do you really feel sorry for people who choose to ‘exit’ if that is their path to peace and joy. Does everyone outside your faith paradigm really need fixing? Anyway, just my 2 cents worth in the interests of mutual understanding 🙂

    PS one thing I do agree with you on is that ‘God’ surely doesn’t need your help in the fight against the ignorance/apathy/sin/pick-an-explanation-for-me of unbelievers. So relax! Have a good week 🙂

  2. Hey mate, thanks for the words. I always fondly and appreciatively remember the time you invested in me as a new, young churchgoer, during the tough times of growing up, and your mentorship and steadfast commitment to giving me time, will always stay with me. It had a huge impact, and it will never be forgotten. I suppose that there are as many reasons for not continuing on a specifically church-based christian path, as there are people. For a start, the discipline of regular practice, and the perseverance with any process of “inner work”, are difficult to maintain, regardless of the “flavor” of that work. But it could be more than that. Perhaps one reason is that many people may ultimately feel constricted by a church, and wonder at the neccesity of many of the specifics that it assumes as truths, about infinities like God. Right now, we are seeing unprecedented changes in the catholic church for example, in response to a need in society for legitimate opportunities for “growth towards God”, without constrictive dogma that requires specific characteristics. When we look back in history, as you did in a recent post, you noted how basically all the different “exclusivities” of the past, those conditionals and things that a church would put between God’s love and the people, have gradually melted away into history. If God is Love, and God is One, and there is Not God But God, then there is nowhere he is not, no prostitute or sinner that is not loved, no space or place for our judgement about “what he wants”. Who could be a one to say, that there is anything that could be against the “will of God”? And saying “because there is a book that says so” just doesn’t cut it anymore. A book that demands the stoning to death of women and men for various crimes etc, is not as perfect a source of knowing God’s will, than the living experience of knowing him, and knowing his love. The living God, the ultimate, omnopotent, all powerful. How can we suggest any temporal constraint to that? So what is a Church FOR? Is it not about creating a place to help one get closer to God? If it is, then it may simply be about setting up a space that is teaching people how to love more fully and actively, all their fellow men. And not loving them by needing to “save” them. Just loving them, and spreading the methods to demonstrate how to love one another more fully, further. Why is it that the majority of the Church’s aired position nowadays seems to be about seeing divisions, and putting up exclusivities and barriers? Isn’t learning to be fuller expressions of unqualified love more important than keeping old divisions alive as long as possible, when we see how all of them ultimately fade into time? Love thy God + Love thy neighbor as thy self+ God is love + He who knows himself knows his God + there is no God but God =……

  3. Well said, Hamo. Thank you for sharing and reminding me of what is true about loving those who are struggling or rejecting their faith in some way, shape, or form.

  4. Hey 🙂

    Thanks for the post. And I just wanted to say I think… God is not afraid. I think there is no fear found in God when we walk away from church. No fear when we get together with a non-Christian. And I think we might try follow that heart too.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with this. You’ve put into words something that any thoughtful church leader feels and wrestles with most of the time – a ‘weight & struggle’ that won’t go away anytime soon, despite our attempts to rationalise and/or ‘leave with God’ to work out.
    “…clever arguments are not the answer to the wounded, disillusioned or disbelieving – but prayer is the hope.” Gold.

  6. As someone who has pretty much left Christianity, I can say that my walk away started with me asking questions of myself about what I believe and why I should believe it. Various different things that I am ‘supposed’ to believe just didn’t make sense. One example being the belief that God hears and answers prayers. He obviously doesn’t give a ‘yes’ answer to the millions of prayers that would go up each day asking for help with starvation/sickness/abuse etc., so at anytime if He were to give an affirmative answer to any of our comparatively trivial prayers, what sort of God (god) is that? Another example for me is the idea of an eternal conscious hell. We are brought up in church to believe that we actually deserve that, but thanks to Jesus we don’t have to go there. I now completely disagree, no one deserves eternal punishment for finite ‘sins’. As a comparison, suppose one of your children steals a pencil from you and doesn’t say sorry. Your response is to lock them in their room for the next 50 years, administering daily beatings. Any person would see that as cruel and unreasonable punishment, however you would be much kinder than this god that is going to make you burn for ever if you don’t ‘repent and believe’.

    So for me my faith started as a house of cards, with card by card being removed for the things that make no sense, until what I have left now is barely recognisable as Christianity. I am hanging onto some of it still, but only just.

  7. Thanks for the comments and reflections folks.

    Tricky to respond to them all but I’ll have a crack where it seems like there are questions:

    Sharon – Thanks for the thoughts 🙂 I don’t think I was trying to be imaginative as I do understand that people walk away for many reasons and I only articulated a few. If the post had a genre it may be ‘lament’ so it was more of an emotive post than an analysis of reasons why people walk. You are quite right that when you give your life to something – helping people find faith and know Jesus – then a sense of loss and disappointment is inevitable. I get that some people like yourself feel they have found a much happier and more meaningful life outside of faith, but of course I struggle to know how that is possible given I locate truth primarily in scripture.

    Georg – so much in there mate! I’d love to chat with you when you are next back in Perth and hear some of your story since we last met up. There is much you write that I say ‘yes’ to, but I sense we land in different places on some issues – perhaps the source of truth and how that impacts on our worldview may be the biggie.

    Jack -not sure if we have met, but thanks for the thoughts. I share some of your concerns about hell and perhaps some of what we have been raised with needs reconsidering rather than dismissing. I know that to maintain integrity of faith I have had to ask significant questions myself – and some of the answers do not land me in the same space I grew up in.

    I’d guess this is an emotive issue from both ends – no one ditches a long term faith without some level of grief I’d imagine, but my point here was simply to say that as someone who has walked with a lot of people over a long time I carry a sense of loss and disappointment when some have walked away. And I think last night I was simply feeling the cummulative load of that…

  8. Weird goings, dodgy theology* coupled with the treadmill of conferences, books and fundraising did it for me.

    I also need to do something I enjoy on a Sunday morning – rather than resenting being on a Church pew and cringing at what is going on..

    (*Pervasive Word-of-faith doctrine creeping into mainstream churches).


  9. Re God: The faith flame is not extinguished. I don’t think it will ever be … and I hopoe not.

    On one hand still know that I need (more) Christian community for the spiritual side in my life, on the other hand I just feel bilious thinking about attending Church (services).

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